A colourful home renovation in Johannesburg

Following a recent renovation, this Johannesburg home is an explosion of colour and styles in perfect harmony.
Feature Graham Wood. Production Sven Alberding. Photographs Greg Cox/living inside

Published: July 28th, 2022 at 8:30 am

The garden surrounding artist Mariette Theron’s house in the Johannesburg suburb of Saxonwold is filled with the same vibrant colours and contrasting textures that is such a key part of the home she shares with her husband Peter.

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‘I garden like I decorate my house. I move things around all the time,’ she says, explaining that she likes to plant strawberries, beans and heads of lettuce in pots that can be set within the garden’s herbaceous drifts, and moved about as she wishes, just as she might switch a painting, a chair or a table from one room to another.

In fact, it was the generous garden, with its mature trees, that convinced the couple to buy their house over 20 years ago, although the house itself was just as impressive. Built in the 1930s, it has a Cape Dutch gable and a shady colonnaded porch, as well as lots of wonderful period details inside, including tall arched windows, original doorways and floors.

There was little work to be done, says Mariette, adding that it had ‘a really good feeling about it’: ideal for a couple with a growing family; their eldest daughter, Pascale, was a toddler at the time and Mariette was pregnant with their second daughter, Andrea. Their youngest daughter, Georgia, was born a few years later, by which time the couple had put their stamp on the house.


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They furnished the rooms with an exuberant mix of antique and vintage furniture, alongside contemporary pieces by local South African designers and, here and there, a few classics of 20th-century design. Similarly, the walls are hung with an intriguing selection of works: pieces by South Africa’s most sought-after contemporary artists hang amongst pictures made by the Theron girls when they were children, and works by emerging artists. Being a painter herself, Mariette is a strong believer in the importance of supporting little-known artists.

As with all the best eclectic homes, almost everything in Mariette and Peter’s house has a story to tell. The kitchen island, for example, was fashioned from an old drawing office filing cabinet, which the couple bought when a large Johannesburg mining house closed their head office.

‘They said we could have it for R150, provided we collected it,’ recalls Mariette. It was on the tenth floor of a downtown building, and wouldn’t fit into the lift. Elsewhere there is a trunk that had to be lugged from Folkestone to Dover by bus, when the couple were living there whilst Peter was working on the Channel Tunnel. But when the bus arrived the trunk was too big!

But the real beauty of this home lies in Mariette’s eye for colour and the way in which she combines seemingly disparate design details to create unity. This is achieved through her love of constantly shifting and adapting arrangements, casting the old in a new light and synthesizing recent additions with the couple’s existing possessions.

But sometimes small-scale rearranging is not enough and, a few years ago, the couple decided it was time to rethink the flow of the house, particularly the way it connected to the garden that surrounds it. They turned to their friend, Johann Slee, a well-known architect in South Africa, and commissioned him to carry out a subtle and respectful renovation.

‘He’s a good friend,’ says Mariette, ‘and he’s known the house ever since we moved in.’ Like them, he was determined to preserve the mood and character of the property. To this end he cleverly reconfigured the interior within its original footprint, without altering the façade.


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Rooms were opened up and the patio, known as a stoep, was extended and relaid with slim, handmade bricks, called klompies. These traditional bricks were also used in the kitchen and dining room, creating a seamless connection with the garden.

The walls of the newly transformed house were painted white throughout, creating a unifying backdrop, against which the couple’s eclectic mix of art and antiques continues to take centre stage. While their house is anything but minimalist, it feels fresh and uncluttered.

Mariette and Peter’s thoughtful approach means that everything has found its place – art and antiques have been combined with harmony and balance in mind. But that doesn’t mean they won’t all be moved again tomorrow: a creative eye will find countless new combinations.

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Mariette refers to both the renovation and her constant desire to rearrange her furniture and collections as ‘moving but not moving’. By which she means that she regularly enjoys the thrill of a new home without the pain of having to up sticks and move house.

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